The aim of this post is not to discount the Islamic portion of the practice, but to show that the practice is not strictly Islamic. In Islam, fgm is referred to as circumcision, but is not found in the Qur'an. The idea of it is found in the Hadith (traditions and sayings of Muhammad and other founders of Islam). Muhammad mentioned this practice when he said:
Book 41, Number 5251:Narrated Umm Atiyyah al-Ansariyyah:
A woman used to perform circumcision in Medina. The Prophet (peace_be_upon_him) said to her: Do not cut severely as that is better for a woman and more desirable for a husband.
Islamic site islam-qa.com has the following response on fgm:
Ibn Qudamah (may Allah have mercy on him) said, in his book al-Mughni: "Circumcision is obligatory for men, and it is an honour for women, but it is not obligatory for them. This is the opinion of many scholars. (Imam) Ahmad said: For men it is more strictly required, but for women it is less strictly required." (al-Mughni 1/70).
Circumcision of the female consists of the removal of a part of the clitoris, which is situated above the opening of the urethra. The Sunnah is not to remove all of it, but only a part. (al-Mawsu‘ah al-Fiqhiyyah 19/28).
In this matter, it is wise to follow the interests of the female: if the clitoris is large, then part of it should be removed, otherwise it should be left alone. This size of the clitoris will vary from woman to woman, and there may be differences between those from hot climates and those from cold climates.
A hadith on the topic of female circumcision has been attributed to the Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon Him), according to which he said: "Circumcision is a Sunnah for men, and an honour for women," but there is some debate as to the authenticity of this hadith. See Silsilah al-Ahadith al-Da‘ifah by al-Albani, no. 1935.
How circumcision is to be performed is mentioned in the hadith narrated by Umm ‘Atiyah, may Allah be pleased with her, according to which a woman used to perform circumcisions in Madinah. The Prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon Him) told her: "Do not abuse (i.e. do not go to extremes in circumcising); that is better for the woman and more liked by her husband." (Reported by Abu Dawud in al-Sunan, Kitab al-Adab; he said this hadith is da‘if).
The scholars’ opinions cited above should be sufficient explanation. And Allah knows best.
So, we see that fgm (rather called circumcision in Islam) does seem to be somewhat prescribed in the Islam Hadiths, but why do opponents of Islam often bring it up? Is it still widely practiced by Muslims? Is it strictly Islamic? Wikipedia has an excellent listing of the countries where it is still practiced and the countries which have prohibited the practice. In looking at the list, one sees that most of the countries where this is practiced are in Africa and are mostly non-Islamic. In fact, it is very prevalent in Kenya, a country that we often consider a "Christian" nation. So, where am I going with this information?
This practice is not primarily Islamic is where I am going with this. In fact, records show that this practice goes back to Egypt and the time of the Pharaohs.
A Greek papyrus from 163 B.C. mentions both boys and girls in Egypt undergoing genital mutilation and it is widely accepted to have originated in Egypt and the Nile valley at the time of the Pharaohs. Evidence from mummies has shown both Type I and Type III FGC present.(Source)
As for modern times, it appears that the practice is primarily performed by non-Islamic tribal groups in Africa. This goes against everything that the most vocal opponents of Islam want you to know. They want to keep on pushing out to you that this practice is very prevalent in Islam and perhaps it is, despite many of the Islamic governments have banned this practice. The fact remains that this is not a primarily Islamic practice, but more of a cultural one. In fact, the cultures that do perform it, practice a more horrific form of it than Islam even prescribes.
Where do we go from here? Don't believe everything you hear or read from the most vocal opponents of Islam. Their main purpose is to find the worst beliefs and practices they can find in Islam and exploit those. This serves no purpose other than drive more fear and hatred into those listening. Let us not focus on the negative, but respond out of love and understanding. As we share the Gospel with Muslims, let us have the correct knowledge about them so as not to be prejudiced by wrong knowledge. May this information be helpful to you in your search for understanding about what Muslims believe and why.